Rebecca Hart Olander: Time to listen, avoid hypocrisy

  • About 400 people protesting the election of Donald Trump march to Northampton City Hall for a rally on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 11/25/2016 10:55:59 PM

I write as — among other aspects of myself — a white woman feminist who voted for Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 election and for Bernie Sanders in the primary.

I was entirely energized by Sanders, and in turning to Clinton I saw a wonderful opportunity for the glass ceiling of the highest office in the land to be shattered.

I am a publisher of women’s voices, I am a mother, I am an ally, and I am an American. I am privileged in many ways, even as I am marginalized in others, and I surely possess unintentional racism, though I am tempted to paper my entire house in Black Lives Matter signs because of how strongly I support that movement.

I also write as a teacher in higher education who has grappled with the aftermath of the election in my classrooms at Westfield State University, where many students supported Trump, many supported Hillary, and many chose not to vote for either, or at all, for a variety of reasons. My extended family holds this same mix.

I’m realizing as I speak and listen to colleagues, friends, and neighbors that many folks don’t have the opportunity that I do to interact with anyone on the other side of the political “aisle,” which is too bad. It leaves some, I think, unable to imagine the hearts and minds of conservative voters other than as caricatures, as those who would yell at a person holding a Hillary sign, or as those who drive around with Trump signs proudly stuck to the backs of their trucks.

I have been thinking about how badly we need to listen to others, including those who are different from ourselves, and about how powerful it could be if we more actively cultivated empathy in our lives.

Much rhetoric from within the bubble of our Valley has been that we should huddle even closer as we gather with those of “like minds.” This even comes from spiritual advisers, and I think they are leaving out a key piece of the post-election actions we should try to take. Obviously, as we lick our wounds and replenish our energy to fight for social justice, we’ll want to rally our troops and create safe spaces.

But as we move forward, we also need to find ways not just to go back to our pre-existing corners. We do so at our peril, and at the peril of our country’s future. When we use language that echoes the “basket of deplorables” comment made by Hillary Clinton, we alienate and shame, and we stoop to the level at which we accuse Trump and his supporters of operating. We come across as moral authorities self-satisfied in our own goodness.

Trump has proven himself to be racist, misogynistic, and a bully toward veterans, those with disabilities, Muslims, Mexicans, and those within the LGBTQ community. Those who voted for him have not, en masse, proven the same thing. They are individuals who voted for many reasons. Some may indeed have voted explicitly to endorse the behaviors most of us abhor in Trump, but others voted because they are disenfranchised, poor, unemployed, and/or are fed up with waste, corruption, and inaction in Washington, to name just a few reasons.

You may say the result of the vote amounts to the same thing even if negative intentions weren’t behind it, and I am certainly fearful of that myself. But that is precisely why we have to come together more as a country in order to fight against such a possibility.

It does no good to assume that those who are spraying hateful graffiti, dressing up in Ku Klux Klan robes, or flying Confederate flags represent all those who voted for Trump (or against Hillary, as they might say). It does no good to say Hillary not getting the presidency was primarily misogynistic. It was misogynistic, of course, on one level, but if we don’t start hearing the spectrum of voices and reasons, we miss an opportunity to find common ground.

Trump’s win also included racism, but the most effective way to confront and challenge racism is not by labeling half the country as racists. No one likes labels. They make people defensive and put them in a box. They stereotype.

People are varied and complicated and beautiful and flawed. The other “side” may like to see us only as rioting looters or bleeding hearts or flag burners (thanks a lot, Hampshire students—my alma mater, by the way). Do we like this? Are we only this? No.

As liberals whose hearts really do feel as though they are bleeding when we grieve this election — and believe me, I’ve been there — we run the risk of sounding smug when we only look at things from one perspective. This is part of the elitism many voted against, and it is dangerous to ignore this aspect of the election.

If we want to effect change, I hope we can be brave enough to look in the mirror as well as shine a light on darkness and hate when we see it. Of course we should double down and work harder on the causes we already worked on, and further protect the vulnerable from growing threats, but I am dismayed by the lack of love and lack of imagination some on the left have. There is self-righteousness and closed-mindedness on the left as well, braying loudly about loving all, celebrating differences, and protecting human rights, while not being able to include in our hearts those that think politically differently from us.

If we really want to challenge ourselves and root out injustice, let’s aim to “go high” as Michelle Obama urges us to do, and to remember, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

We call out bullying and reject hate speech, and yet I have seen deplorable things being said on Facebook that echo what many say characterizes the right. When a white woman animalizes Michelle Obama on Twitter, how is it OK to respond with likening the abuser’s face to that of a pig? When Melania Trump says her mission as First Lady will be to confront bullying—tone deaf and deeply ironic as it was—how is it OK to go so far as to bully her in return?

Let’s strive to avoid hypocrisy. I am all for glass ceilings being shattered, but we need to realize we are living in entire houses made of glass and that many of the stones being thrown around are being launched from our own fists.

Rebecca Hart Olander, of Florence, is a poet, teacher and editor.

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